Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Russian Marriage

Last week, I was guest blogging on Risky Regencies about the research I’d done for the Aikenhead Honours trilogy, and especially for the first book, inspired by the real-life adventures of Nadezdha Durova, the cavalry maiden. Here she is:
If you’ve read His Cavalry Lady, you’ll know that it contains a Russian wedding. Sadly, it just wasn’t possible to describe it in detail, but here’s a description from the journals of the Wilmot sisters, dating from 1803-1808.

First, the wedding of nobles:

“In the morning I went accompanied by Princess Anne Simonovna and the 2 Mlles Kotchetoffs to see General Loptoff’s wedding with the Princess Gallitzen, as I had never seen a noble’s wedding in Russia. We went to the church at 12 o’clock and soon after arrived the Bridegroom in full dress. The Bride followed half an hour later, dressed in Lace, satin, a bandeau of diamonds, and diamond earrings. Their rings were exchanged three times; they sipped three times the wine, emblematic of sharing equally the joys or sorrows of life, they wore the Nuptial Crowns, and were led three times round the altar. The Priest then read a sort of exhortation or sermon, and that’s all. The bride was not veiled as peasants are, nor is a noble’s wedding so interesting as a peasant’s. There was a good number of persons in church. After having congratulated the bridals we returned home. By the bye General Loptoff quitted the Church before his lady.”
[The picture shows the cathedral of St Nicholas]

Then the arranged wedding of peasants (though not, as you’ll see, poor peasants):

“The first interview between a young man and woman destined for each other by their parents … always takes place during the dead of the night that no creature except the two families immediately concerned may know anything of the matter, as if it happened that the man refused on seeing her to marry the woman chosen for him, no other would marry her during her life. This however rarely happens as the fathers are very arbitrary. As for the young women they are disposed of without a question on the subject and being kept close prisoners literally till they are married. 'Tis no great wonder if they accept anything that’s offered having nothing better to compare and give a preference to; besides their marriage releases them from a confinement which they grumble against most bitterly. This first interview fixes the fate of the young woman looked at, as they call it, but the supposed first interview in presence of all the relations on both sides takes place some days after, during which time the father of the bride-elect sends a list of what gowns, petticoats, pearls, diamonds, linen, plate etc he intends to give with his daughter to the bridegroom-elect, who frequently expostulates on the scantiness or bad taste of the goods, naming what pleases him better. When the assembly of relatives takes place and the matchmaker, the young man begs this most essential personage to ask for such a young woman by name in a profound whisper; she does so; he is then permitted to touch her hand. From that moment they are considered man and wife. The arrangements for the ceremony are public and all’s said. There is no difference in the religion of this class of persons from that of the noblesse.”

Jewels, especially diamonds, figure a lot in accounts of noble life and dress, and not only at weddings. This is the jewel I had in mind in His Cavalry Lady when I was describing Alex’s visit to the Hermitage in St Petersburg (shown at the top of this post).

Alex thinks it’s hideous. What do you think?

However, since it's April and the second book of the Aikenhead Honours trilogy is out in the USA and Canada, I should probably be blogging here about His Reluctant Mistress and Vienna, plus all the amazing celebrations that took place during the months of the Congress of Vienna.

Reading a diary of the event kept by a local bureaucrat was very interesting. In the first weeks, he recorded absolutely everything that happened down to the last detail. By Christmas, he appears to have become bored out of his mind. He recorded only unusual events, and not even all of those. He was more concerned about the huge inflation in Vienna and the fact that his pay wasn't enough to cover food and heating. In fact, the Austrian Emperor had to give all his staff a pay rise. No wonder he was nearly bankrupt!

In the Riskies blog last week, I commented on the special napkin folding which was used at the Austrian Imperial court, but only when the Imperial family was present. Nowadays, it's is used only when the President of Austria hosts a state dinner, apparently. What's more, the secret of the elaborate folding is known only to two people at any one time. It's a state secret that goes with the job.

You may think such a thing would be easy to fathom. I did, until I looked at it. Here it is so you can decide for yourself. Are there any origami specialists out there who think they can replicate this from a single damask napkin? Looks like a very daunting piece of reverse engineering to me, but you may know better?


Late PS: I have just discovered that I've been giving you the wrong date for UK paperback publication of His Forbidden Liaison, book 3 of the Aikenhead Honours trilogy. It's not July. It's September 2009. (The hardback will be out in July.) Many, many apologies to UK readers who have been misled and who will have to wait even longer. Grovelling apologies to all.


kate tremayne said...

Thank you Joanna for such an interesting post. The napkin seemed more a brain teaser than a rubik's cube. Wishing you every success with your trilogy.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Kate. So far, the books are exciting a lot of comment which is *probably* a good thing. The cover was also featured, among others, on a US morning TV show about romance sales in a recession.

I agree with you about the napkin. I wouldn't know where to start.

Anonymous said...


I've just discovered that I've been misleading UK readers over the publication date of book 3 of the Aikenhead Honours trilogy, His Forbidden Liaison. I've been writing everywhere that it will be July. I'm so sorry. It's September. (The UK hardback is July.)

Many, many apologies. I'll happily grovel in person at the RNA Conference in July.

monica fairview said...

Those napkins are amazing. Are they hard to unravel as well, I wonder? I can just imagine trying to have a polite person with the person next to me while tugging desperately at the napkin to open it up...

Louise Allen said...

Fascinating - and such a dfferent background for Regencies - loving it so far!
Not sure about the jewel - although if I owned it, I'd be round to the Antiques Roadshow in double-quick time.
I wonder if security guards remove any guests who take too long unfurling their napkinsin case they are spying on the method?

Carol Townend said...

Hello Joanne,
What an interesting post! (Except the part about UK readers having to wait! I am looking forward to September though.)
All best
PS the jewel is quite extraordinary,almost kitsch (sp?), and while I can attempt waterlily napkins, I wouldn't think about trying the one in your picture!!

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